TIFF Books on Film Returns March 2 to June 22


Remains of the Day | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

TIFF’s Books on Film series returns for its fifth season on March 2nd with an exciting line up of great cinema that began as outstanding literature. This seems especially timely after a year that’s been fantastic for film adaptations of books — recent box office hits (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Fifty Shades of Grey, any number of superhero movies) also began as books, as did at least half a dozen of the top contenders this awards season. The TIFF series celebrates the translation of the page to screen, with film screenings followed by CBC host Eleanor Wachtel (Writers & Company) interviewing filmmakers, authors and experts about the art of adapting a book for the screen.

TIFF Books on Film 2015 Schedule:

Monday, March 2, 7 pm
James Shapiro (Professor of English at Columbia University) on Coriolanus

Coriolanus. Credit: Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library.

Coriolanus | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library.


Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler and Shakespeare — need I say more? Fiennes also directs this modern day adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, about an exiled Roman general who allies with his sworn enemy to take revenge on the city that spurned him. 

Esteemed Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro will discuss the perennial challenges of bringing the Bard to the screen.

Monday, March 16, 7 pm
Kazuo Ishiguro on The Remains of the Day

This is the one I’m seriously geeking out over. Kazuo Ishiguro is an amazing writer, and The Remains of the Day is, bar none, my favourite among all of his works. He will be at TIFF Bell Lightbox (in person!) to talk to Eleanor Wachtel about the film adaptation. The film itself stars Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, so really, how can it be anything but spectacular?
Monday, April 13, 7 pm
Lynn Barber on An Education
An Education | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

An Education | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library


I’ve heard a lot of great things about this film starring Carey Mulligan and adapted from a memoir by English journalist Lynn Barber about her teenage love affair with a dashing con man. It will be great to see how it plays out on screen, and then to hear from Barber herself on the adaptation of her life.

Monday, May 11, 7 pm
Allan Scott on Don’t Look Now

Don't Look Now | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

Don’t Look Now | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library


Daphne du Maurier had a gift for atmosphere in her writing, and this film, adapted from one of her short stories, sounds decidedly creepy. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie play a married couple who is haunted by a series of mysterious occurrences after the death of their daughter. Best part? Screenwriter Allan Scott, who will be discussing his adaptation with Eleanor Wachtel, is also known for creating the stage musical adaptation of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, which just makes him more awesome to my inner theatre geek.

Monday, June 1, 7 pm
Irvine Welsh on Trainspotting

Trainspotting | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

Trainspotting | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library


To be honest, I’ve never watched this classic based on a book (also a classic!) by Irvine Welsh. The film stars Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller though, so I’ll definitely have to give it a try. The author himself will be speaking with Eleanor Wachtel after the screening of this film.

Monday, June 22, 7 pm
Phillip Lopate on The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie | Courtesy of Photofest

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie | Courtesy of Photofest

Essayist, poet, novelist and film critic Phillip Lopate speaks with Eleanor Wachtel about this classic 1969 adaptation of Muriel Spark’s world-famous novel. The film adaptation stars Maggie Smith — Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter series, the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey, among many other legendary roles, with Jean Brodie being among her most famous. I also loved Muriel Spark’s book, and look forward to hearing it discussed at TIFF.

How to subscribe:

Series subscriptions to Books on Film include all six events and are on sale now. Subscription pricing as follows (regular price subscribers save $30 off the cost of single tickets): adult member $153, adult non-member $180, student/senior member $122.40, students/senior non-member $144.

Single tickets available starting on Wednesday, February 25: adult member $28, adult nonmember $35, student/senior member $24, student/senior non-member $29.75, groups of 20+ $31.50.

Purchase tickets online at tiff.net/books, by phone from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET daily at 416.599.TIFF or 1.888.599.8433, or visit the Steve and Rashmi Gupta Box Office in person from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET daily at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Reitman Square, 350 King Street West.

TIFF Books On Film | The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid

reluctant_fundamentalist_xlgThere’s a line in the film adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (movie on Rotten Tomatoes | book on Goodreads) that I absolutely love. A teacher in Pakistan speaks to his students about the American dream and asks, “Is there a Pakistani dream? One that doesn’t involve immigration?” As a Filipino who immigrated to Canada, that line struck a chord in me. The character was speaking about Pakistan, but it’s a question that is just as relevant to the Philippines and, I imagine, to many other countries worldwide. Even more powerful, I watched the movie last March 3 at TIFF Bell Lightbox, during the TIFF Books on Film series, and the author had flown in all the way from Pakistan to speak with Eleanor Wachtel after the film. Speaking about the line I loved, Hamid said, “It’s not that there should or shouldn’t be a Pakistani dream, but that Pakistanis should dream whatever the hell they want.”

Hamid’s point was that Pakistanis shouldn’t be lumped together into a single ideology, and indeed his story argues against fundamentalism of any kind. The result is richly textured, highly ambiguous, utterly real characters whose story just blew me away. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is about a Pakistani man named Changez (Riz Ahmed) who is living the American dream as a Wall Street executive — he is brilliant and ruthless, cold-heartedly suggesting companies cut a large section of their workforce to save on costs. In many ways, he has everything to love about America and the opportunities it has given him to escape the comfortable yet less affluent life he had in Pakistan with a poet father. Yet when 9/11 happens, he faces a crisis of identity and an indefinable urge to return to his roots.

Hamid doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable material. When Changez first hears of the collapse of the World Trade Towers, he sits on his hotel bed in the Philippines, half in shock, and smiles. The effect is chilling — we are so used to the proper, understandable response to 9/11 that seeing a hero smile at the news makes us unsure what to think. It wasn’t a smile of evil, and I’m not sure how to describe it, but bravo to Ahmed for pulling off the scene with such complexity that we as viewers are compelled to dig deeper rather than immediately condemn him. In the film, Changez confesses his reaction to 9/11 to an American reporter (Liev Shrieber), who looks at him with disgust. It’s not that he was happy, Changez explains. Who could be happy at the death of so many people? It was just at that moment, there was a sense of satisfaction at arrogance brought low. Didn’t the reporter ever feel that?

In his interview after the film, Hamid explained that he got the idea for the scene from seeing the reaction at his gym in London when news of 9/11 broke on the TV screens. “What kind of gym was this?” a horrified Wachtel asked. Hamid joked it was an Al Qaeda training facility but immediately explained that it was a regular gym, and that the faces of the people he saw reacting much like Changez did were from a variety of backgrounds. Obviously, he explains, none of them were actually thrilled at so many people dying, but that split second satisfaction intrigued him, and he wanted to write it into his book. “One of my themes as a writer is to re-complicate what has been oversimplified,” Hamid told Wachtel, and indeed Reluctant Fundamentalist does just that. It raises much more questions than it answers, and is immensely more powerful for it.

Reluctant Fundamentalist is somewhat unusual in that Hamid himself collaborated on the adaptation, so it was great hearing his insights into the different mediums. For example, he said that both versions employed ambiguity but in very different ways. He joked that the film version of ambiguity lay in its lack of English subtitles for the lines in Urdu. The lack of subtitles wasn’t a big deal through most of the movie until one of the final scenes where, after a climactic moment, the protagonist Changez gives a long, impassioned speech in Urdu, other characters nodding sagely at his words and I wondering if the mystery around his words was deliberate. Apparently not, since the first thing Hamid did after the film was translate the speech for members of the audience who “don’t speak Urdu and may be wondering how the film ended.” (Hamid did say that the DVD had subtitles, so this might have just been a one off fluke.)

Listening to Hamid talk about the making of the film was such a great opportunity to glimpse behind the scenes and see how what worked so well in a book was adapted to work well in such a different way in film. Hamid said that for him, a successful film adaptation was not a literal translation of the book to the screen, and that it had to be different in order to take into account its different medium. Unlike film, “in a book, there’s a greater space for creative co-imagination for the reader,” Hamid said. “Novels invite the reader to create their own story.” Hamid has a great respect for both mediums and particularly for how the differences between the two allow for different, yet equally rich, storytelling experiences. When asked what his favourite thing about the film was, Hamid cited the music, because “it’s so deeply important and different from what I do.”

I haven’t read the book. After the movie, I want to, though given some of the changes in the adaptation that I actually really like (for example, Changez’s girlfriend is much stronger in the movie, due to director Mira Nair’s desire to portray strong women, and also the movie continues Changez’s story far beyond what the book covered), I think I might end up liking the movie more. Still, I love the story and I’d love to see how it’s interpreted on the page. The book is available at the TIFF store, along with the other titles on the TIFF Books on Film series.

Next up on TIFF Books on Film series is on March 31, 7 pm, about filmmaker Agnieszka Holland on her adaptation of Henry James’ Washington Square, about the conflict between a sheltered young woman and her domineering father in the high society of 1850s New York. For the full schedule of TIFF Books on Film 2014 and details on how to purchase tickets, see the TIFF website.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist and all the books in the TIFF Books on Film series are available at the TIFF store.


Thank you to TIFF for a ticket to see The Reluctant Fundamentalist with Mohsin Hamid at the Books on Film series in exchange for an honest review.

TIFF Books on Film | TIFF connects booklovers with brilliant cinema!

Host Eleanor Wachtel. Photo courtesy of CBC.

Host Eleanor Wachtel. Photo courtesy of CBC.

Heads up book lovers and film buffs! The Toronto International Film Festival is launching a new Books on Film series tonight, February 11. Hosted by Eleanor Wachtel of CBC’s Writers and Company, this monthly event at TIFF Bell Lightbox features filmmakers and authors in an in-depth discussion about the art of adaptation.

Can a film ever live up to the book? No easy feat, and some booklovers would say it’s impossible. Personally, there are some Poirot adaptations I’ve enjoyed more than the book, thanks to the brilliance of David Suchet. Same with the Dexter Morgan series and, quite possibly, 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

TIFF Books on Film 2013 Schedule:

*All films are on Monday evenings at 7 pm.

February 11— Hilton Als (author and New Yorker theatre critic) on The Innocents

March 4 — Richard Russo (Pulitzer Prize–winning author) on Nobody’s Fool

April 8 — Lisa Cortés (music and film producer, driving force behind success of Def Jam Records) on Precious

May 6 — Christopher Hampton (award-winning screenwriter and playwright) on Atonement (which he adapted to screen)

June 3 — Ted Kotcheff (filmmaker and executive producer of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) on The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

June 24 — Deepa Mehta (Canadian filmmaker) on Midnight’s Children

Which ones am I excited about?

Film still from The Innocents. Photo courtesy of Photofest.

Film still from The Innocents. Photo credit: Photofest

The Innocents is based on one of my favourite horror stories ever — Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. And to have the opportunity to listen to a critic from The New Yorker discuss it — amazing opportunity! Tonight!

Film still from The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Photo courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

Film still from The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Photo credit: TIFF Film Reference Library

I love Mordecai Richler, and I remember viewing a clip from Joshua Then and Now in a university Can Lit class. Duddy Kravitz is a classic.

Film still from Atonement. Photo credit: TIFF Film Reference Library

Film still from Atonement. Photo credit: TIFF Film Reference Library

I remember reading this book and feeling absolutely cheated by the ending. Still, I’ve heard good things about the movie, and am definitely interested in seeing it on the big screen.

How to subscribe:

Subscriptions to the series are available for $153 for TIFF Members or $180 for non-members (prices include tax). Based on availability, single tickets may be released closer to the event. Subscriptions are on-sale at tiff.net/subscriptionseries.

Additional bonus for book lovers: The first 100 subscribers will receive a complimentary copy of each book featured, courtesy of Random House Canada.

First film is tonight – The Innocents, based on Henry James’ Turn of the Screw.